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On Top Of Spaghetti: A Tragic Tale

Last night we had spaghetti, as is often
the case on the day Maddie has ballet and I teach right before
dinner. Maddie had her usual
noodles-with-one-meatball-hold-the-sauce order, and as the family
sat around eating together she broke into song – “On
Top of Spaghetti”.

Brian and I could only remember the first verse, so Brian looked up
all the lyrics on his android phone. He and Maddie sang lustily
through the meatball rolling under the bush, then turning to mush,
then growing into a big meatball tree next spring while Cora
continued to eat and I cleared dishes.

Before they could get to the part about new meatballs growing in,
Brian noticed a strange “bah-hah-hah” sound from Cora.
He looked up and saw her, a smile screwed onto her face, trying to
hold back making noise. “Cora, are you crying, baby?”
Brian asked her.

Cora’s eyes got wider. “No,
no, I’m laughing!” she said, just before tears spilled
onto her cheeks and more sobs escaped from her mouth.

Brian rushed over and picked her up. “Cora, what’s
wrong, honey?” he asked, concerned. “No, Daddy,
I’m laughing!” she insisted desperately.
“Really?” he pressed. “Because it seems like
you’re crying. Are you ok?”

And the floodgates opened.

“It’s just such a sa-sa-sa-sad song!” Cora
wailed, then threw her arms tight about his neck, buried her face
in his warmth, and gave herself over to a huge cry fest.

Brian and I looked at each other and could see the same message in
our eyes – Do NOT laugh! Do NOT take this less gravely than
she deserves – and struggled to see the sadness in “On
Top of Spaghetti”. Brian continued to hold his clutching,
shivering bundle, sobbing as if her heart were breaking, until she
reached across for me, needing a Mommy Hair Snuggle.

I carried Cora to the couch and sat with her still twined
intricately around my body. She clutched tighter as I settled her
into my lap, still wailing those big, gulping sobs that mean the
end is nowhere in sight. “Honey, what do you think is sad
about this song?”

Sniffle, sniffle, gulp, gulp. “W-w-w-well,” she tried,
“he l-l-l-lost his m-m-m-m-eatball! His m-m-m-meatball got
lost!” and then she collapsed again into hysterical wailing.

This from the child that eschews meatballs on her plate altogether.

Many, many minutes later Cora began to calm down, and we actually
had to work through the story of the Lost Meatball. We talked about
how the meatball got lost just like Cora sometimes drops a Cheeto,
and when she loses a Cheeto two good things happen: first, the
dropped Cheeto gets thrown to the birds and the birdies get a
Cheeto; and second, Cora gets a new Cheeto to replace the dirty
one. So everyone wins.

Then we got into the circle-of-life aspect of the song, talking
about how it was the meatball’s time to become mushy, and how
the meatball eventually ended up feeding people for generations
because it became a tree that bore fruit. And the entire time, no
one dared snicker or roll her eyes or treat it with less than the
gravitas with which Cora was treating the subject.

Because for whatever reason, Cora felt the loss of the meatball.
Deeply. And danged if the whole family didn’t go through the
stages of grief with her.

Maddie wandered over, a consoling hand on Cora’s shoulder as
she said, “You know, Cora, I bet that meatball tree made lots
of dinners for people, and also nests for birds! It was
multi-functional! It helped human kids and bird kids, both.”
Cora nodded, musing silently.

We all worked through it, eventually going Under the Blanket
– something Cora does when she needs serious recovery time.
We lined up in the order Cora dictated and sat under the blanket
for a while until her sobs calmed. Seriously, folks – I
cannot make this up.

Perhaps a short memorial service would have helped.


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